I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Apperson Manly, the author of Nothando’s Journey a new kids’ book in Africa. Set in Swaziland, this lovely story follows a young girl named Nothando traveling to the traditional Reed Festival. Along the way she learns important lessons from the animals she meets.
How did your experiences as an elementary teacher in Swaziland inspire Nothando’s Journey?
There was a little shy girl in one of my classes. She never spoke. I think shy kids have just as much in them as boisterous kids. This book came to represent the importance of self-discovery. You don’t have to speak but you should as an adult or child recognize your inner wisdom.
You’ve taught and studied all over the world—France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Italy. What is it about Swaziland that really stuck in your imagination?
Southern Africa is beautiful in a way that Rome is beautiful. Romans built Rome, but there is something that once existed that we can no longer see in many places in the world. Swaziland provided that for me.
You’re quite the traveler. How did your fascination with other cultures and languages develop?
My mom was a French teacher. My best friend was born in Spain and spoke Spanish with her mom. The majority of my high school friends were first generation Japanese or Chinese. People say our geography in the US does not lend itself to language acquisition so some do not learn languages. This is true. But we have something extremely rich which I feel many miss: We all migrated. We are culturally rich if we just look around and embrace it. Wonderful languages and culturally rich neighborhoods exist everywhere in America.
Alyssa Casey’s mixed-media illustrations are so rich, unusual, and beautiful. What was it like working together—and with mixed-media art—to bring this book to life?
She is amazing!!! I love her commitment to her art. She soaks up the land and culture in her work. Perfect for this project, she studied all my photos from Swaziland and did her own research. Because she is a traveling artist, I never knew where I would find her. She is constantly challenging herself and integrating what she learns.
As a yoga instructor, what do you hope children (and parents) can learn from Nothando’s encounters with the animals?
Why is yoga beneficial to expression and self-discovery—especially for children? Oh don’t get me started…. I am a mom… I love being a mom…. There are precious moments in life and one of those is when your children share their internal world with you. If this book can facilitate that in any way then it is a success in my opinion.
You’re a breast cancer survivor. Did your experience as a survivor shape Nothando’s story, or your journey as an author?
I owned a yoga studio, I ran triathlons and could do power yoga. My body was strong. One day all that was gone. I was in surgery and then in chemo; my life folded inside itself. I started doing an inward yoga practice called iRest. It is a somatic yoga experience. Although people think yoga has to be moving into pretzel postures, yoga is really many things. One of which is mindfulness. The inward yoga practice I started during chemo was so incredibly freeing. You know you feel physically terrible during chemo but as you become the observer of your internal world and the comings and going of sensations, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, you know you are something more than all of this. You begin to capture the moment and a deeper sense of YOU.
This is what Nothando does. She captures herself in the moment. This could also be called awareness or mindfulness. During my treatment, I had love from many people who helped me get through the challenges, and I learned to be very patient and kind to myself. Nothando translates as LOVE, and it is LOVE’S JOURNEY that we all need to make. It is a Universal Message.
Did any other books/author inspire or influence Nothando’s Journey?
I think all books where the parent, caregiver or teacher opens a dialogue with the child inspire me. My oldest, now 25, as a child would sit on my lap and chat about Good Night Moon, my second child loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My boys loved a book about a garbage truck. I am grateful for these books and the moments they gave us.
What is the number one thing you hope children (and parents) take away from Nothando’s Journey?
Are you looking for a kids’ book in Africa that is set in a specific country? Instead of generalizing, talk about Nothando and her adventure in Swaziland.